Am I Having Flashbacks of Childhood Sexual Abuse?

Recently, I was on vacation visiting some family with young children. As I played with them with their dolls, I had a sort of epiphany, I guess you could call it, of myself playing with dolls when I was a young child. I remembered one instance clearly, where I had my Barbie go into the "bathroom," and my Ken doll would follow her and violently rape her. I remember everything vividly, but why haven't I remembered it earlier, or have I just always known it? Later on that same week, I had a vivid dream of myself as a toddler in the back of someone's car with another small child. I had no shirt on and was being made to touch the other child. The adult was taking pictures the whole time. Child pornography. I have had this dream incredibly often since then and it is unnerving me. Is there some way that I have blocked some form of child abuse from my mind, or did I just overhear something about rape on TV or from my parents? Why did I have this "fascination" with rape at such a young age? Could this have anything to do with why I have been drawn to abusive relationships in my older years? Thank you so much for your help and reply. —Unnerved
Dear Unnerved,

It can be hard to know for certain whether what you have been experiencing is, in fact, a series of previously repressed memories or something else. It is very possible to rediscover memories that have been tucked away and buried for years and not just traumatic ones. Sometimes a smell, a sound, a place, or an experience brings something back to us in vivid detail that had previously been hidden. Sometimes we just get a glimpse of it, an impression, but the effect can be quite unsettling and even disturbing.

I have had the experience of suddenly recalling an event from decades earlier with vivid detail. I had to call a family member to confirm if what I was remembering was accurate (it was). My event was not traumatic or upsetting; I was far more troubled by the fact of its absence than by its reappearance.

It is possible that your memory, triggered by your experience with your friends’ children, is accurate. You may be remembering an event or an amalgamation of a series of events. It is not unusual for children to engage in play with dolls that explores sexual themes. What seems troubling is the violent nature of the play you are describing. Perhaps you were acting out something you witnessed or heard about. My hope would be that, if you had experienced something so violent in your childhood, someone in your family would have known or been aware that something had happened. Is there anyone you can check in with who might know if what you are remembering happened or who can lend insight?

In regards to your dream about possible child pornography, our dreams are often a way of processing information that we aren’t able to make meaning of during our waking hours. Your dream may be connected to an experience you had, but it may also be something else. If your dreams and memories are causing you distress, which it sounds as if they are, I strongly urge you to connect with a licensed professional to explore what may be at the root of this and how to reduce your distress in the present.

The second part of your question, however, brings up another set of concerns. You mention being drawn to abusive relationships in your older years. No matter the reasons or the root causes, this is something I strongly encourage you to get support with. If you find yourself in an unhealthy relationship or unhealthy patterns of relationships, there are steps you can take to change that. A history of abuse in childhood can contribute to adult relationship patterns, but that history doesn’t limit or determine the kinds of relationships we are capable of having.

Best of luck,
Erika

Erika Myers
Erika Myers, MS, MEd, LPC, NCC is a licensed psychotherapist and former educator specializing in working with families in transition (often due to separation or divorce) as well as individuals seeking support with relationship issues, parenting, depression, anxiety, grief/loss/bereavement, and managing major life changes. Although her theoretical orientation is eclectic, she most frequently uses a person-centered, strengths-based approach and cognitive behavioral therapy in her practice.
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  • Monica

    Monica

    September 19th, 2014 at 10:25 AM

    This has to be very disturbing and of course should be a cause for concern with you. I hope that this is not something that you have been suppressing but then again I guess that you just never know and it is definitely worth seeking out someone to talk to who might can help you sort through some of this confusion

  • ron

    ron

    September 20th, 2014 at 1:19 PM

    Have you talked with anyone with whom you grew up to see if they remember anything like this?

  • stressmom

    stressmom

    September 22nd, 2014 at 1:41 PM

    I guess that I would be very careful about jumping to any conclusions before working with someone who can possibly help you to make sense of this. It could be a reaction stemming from something that happened to you in the past or it could be a combination of other things that are causing you to feel like this could be real. I don’t know and I know that this could be causing you a great deal of confusion and pain. I think that when you can find someone to talk to and help walk you through this, no matter how difficult, I think that it can probably help you come up with some much needed ansers.

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